The second Murray County police officer involved in the case in which evidence was planted on the car of a woman who said she had spurned a magistrate's sexual advances was sentenced Wednesday to a year in federal prison.
Federal Judge Harold Murphy in Rome gave former Police Capt. Michael Henderson, 41, a sentence that was four months higher than the eight-month plea bargain deal.
Judge Murphy said the officer's conduct "demands a sentence of some sternness."
He added, "Considering that your actions have struck at the very basis of civilized law, my sentence was a very modest one."
Prosecutor Jeffrey Davis said Henderson had been untruthful with prosecutors over several issues in the case that involves former Murray County Magistrate Bryant Cochran. Angela Garmley, who had a case in his court, went to a judicial panel with her charges.
Prosecutors said afterward then-Magistrate Cochran told several police officers that drugs could be found on her car and where to find them.
Ms. Garmley was on the front row at the sentencing hearing with her husband and with attorney McCracken Poston.
Attorney Poston called it "one more step toward justice."
He said, "The mastermind of this - Bryant Cochran - remains untouched as of this point."
Prosecutor Davis said, "The investigation is ongoing."
Billy Sparks, attorney for the defendant, said prosecutors recently asked questioned Henderson "about his veracity." He said he was asked to take a lie detector test. The attorney said he advised his client not to take the lie detector test, saying such tests are unreliable.
Attorney Sparks said there had not been any allegation that Henderson, who is a cousin of Cochran, had knowledge about the planting of the illegal drugs on Ms. Garmley's car.
He said Henderson "was debriefed throughly" by the government and so was his wife.
The attorney said Henderson's only infraction was telling a falsehood during an interview by investigators.
Attorney Sparks said Henderson was less culpable than former Murray County deputy Josh Greeson, who earlier got a 10-month sentence. He said Greeson lied about planting the evidence and lied while getting a search warrant to take urine from Ms. Garmley. He also said Greeson had made several media statements about the case.
He said Henderson agreed early to plead guilty, while Greeson did so on the eve of his trial. He said Henderson had been prepared to testify against Greeson.
Attorney Sparks suggested home confinement for Henderson.
The sentencing range for Henderson was 8-14 months.
The judge said he had gotten letters of support for Henderson from his wife, mother, friend like a brother and fellow church members.
Henderson's sentence, at the request of his attorney, was changed to a year and a day so he will be eligible to qualify for an earlier release.
The Chatsworth resident was allowed to report to federal prison in January.
“By lying to his fellow law enforcement officers, Mr. Henderson obstructed a public corruption investigation,” said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. “But, in addition to violating the law, Mr. Henderson also violated the trust given to him by Murray County’s citizen.”
Mark F. Giuliano, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, stated, “Today’s sentencing of former Captain Henderson marks the end of an otherwise successful and promising career in law enforcement with the Murray County Sheriff’s Office. Actions that betray an officer’s sworn oath and the overall public trust bestowed upon them cannot be tolerated. With today’s sentencing, former Captain Henderson is being held accountable for those actions.”
According to United States Attorney Yates, the charges and other information presented in court: In April 2012, a female citizen of Murray County, Ga., met with then-Chief Magistrate Judge Bryant Cochran regarding a legal matter. The citizen claimed that during that meeting, Mr. Cochran made inappropriate sexual overtures towards her. Following the complaint, Mr. Cochran called several local police officers to pass along a “tip” that the citizen carried drugs in her white Dodge vehicle.
Sometime in mid-July 2012, Mr. Cochran provided then-Captain Henderson with the tip that the citizen carried drugs in her white Dodge vehicle. After receiving the tip, Henderson provided the tip to, and discussed the tip with, other members of the Murray County Sheriff’s Office.
On Aug. 14, 2012, Henderson and separately-convicted former Deputy Sheriff Joshua L. Greeson participated in a traffic stop of the white Dodge car. During the stop, Greeson found methamphetamine in a metal tin hidden under the wheel well of the car. After finding the drugs, Henderson and Greeson arrested the female citizen and another occupant of the vehicle.
Shortly thereafter, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) received information that the drugs had been planted on the vehicle by another individual, in an attempt to falsely implicate the female citizen. As a result, the state drug charges against the citizen were dismissed.
On Aug. 22, 2012, agents from the GBI interviewed Henderson in connection with a public corruption investigation. During the interview, Henderson falsely stated to the GBI agents that he had never told any other members of the Murray County Sheriff’s Office that he had received a tip that the white Dodge was allegedly carrying drugs.
On Aug. 31, 2012, Henderson was fired from the Murray County Sheriff’s Office.
On March 27, 2013, Henderson pleaded guilty to tampering with a witness by lying to the GBI agents.